In a number of conversations recently, I’ve heard A/E firm leaders grappling with the challenge of how to attract “A” caliber talent to their firm. To be honest, I’ve been hearing this comment on-and-off since late last year, but I’d sort of dismissed it for a number of months because there still tends to be a fair amount of pessimism floating around related to opportunities in the commercial sector.
But, after hearing it a number of times from firms all across the country, it can’t be dismissed. Firms are struggling to attract the talent they need to sustain the growth they want. This sounds to be especially true around mid-career professionals — project managers and industry specialists.
Is There a Talent Shortage?
In its quarterly Middle Market Indicator report, The National Center for the Middle Market, identified a growing skills and talent gap that is affecting middle market firms in a number of sectors. While the gap appears to be most prominent in the manufacturing industries, there is little doubt in my mind that this is going to be a growing problem for A/E firms as well because the more I think about it this just makes a lot of sense. There’s been two straight years of revenue growth in the ENR 500, the recession reduced the workforce pushing many folks to other careers, simultaneously it forced a lot of firms to get much better about pursuing business internationally, and the larger generation of experienced baby boomers are starting to retire. It all stacks up to potential talent shortages in specialty areas.
What Are Firms Doing About It?
The firms I’m hearing this challenge from are really well run, successful firms. Some, have been raising fees throughout the year to stem growth. They’re doing all the right things from a traditional talent attraction perspective — they have recruiters on staff, on retainer and on contingency, they have job postings on major job boards, and they have made substantial investments in LinkedIn advertising. Yet, they’re still not entirely satisfied with the outcomes.
So, I got to thinking about the state of firm websites and the experiences they’re providing for potential employees. For most middle market firm sites, as an audience, talent hardly touches the surface of what the website is doing. Sure, every site has a careers page, but quite often it’s nothing more than a few hollow comments about “people being our most important asset,” a few “Best Places to Work” logos and a haphazard collection of job postings. If you want to attract top talent — especially talent in their 30s — you have to start prioritizing talent as an audience for your site and thinking about how to create a compelling web experience for them.
Ultimately, I think there are 4 things you could be doing on your site to attract top talent.
#1 – Have a Clearly Defined Vision and Purpose
Let’s face it, young people and mid-career professionals want to work for firms that have clear definition on where they’re going and how they’re going to get there. And, they’re looking for leaders that are challenging them to meaningfully contribute to that vision. For an example of this, take a look at this video from David Seaton, the CEO of Flour.
#2 – Showcase a Culture that People Actually Want to Work For
The critical point here is to make sure that your culture is both compelling and clearly evident through your website. What is it truly like to work here? What is important to the organization? How does it treat employees? What types of attitudes, personalities, and thinking does the firm really value?
Don’t be afraid to open, honest, and entertaining. You’re not trying to attract large capital investments here. You’re trying to attract talented industry professionals. Think more like a consumer marketer. Consider using video and multimedia to tell the story in a more entertaining and compelling way. Don’t be afraid to incorporate a little social media. Think about adding a careers blog. Here are some good examples of firms that have done some interesting things:
#3 – Show People Like Those You Hope to Attract
“A” caliber people want to work with other “A” caliber people. Look inside your firm and identify your top performers — you know who they are, the people you wish you could clone. Feature those people prominently within the careers section of your site. If possible, use “testimonial” style video of them talking about compelling, meaningful and interesting things they’ve been a part of at your firm. Some good examples:
- GE Employee Profile (Video example from GE Works)
- AECOM Employee Profile (Example)
- Bechtel Employee Profiles
#4 – Make Sure Opportunities Are Easy to Find, Share and Apply For
I’m willing to bet for every hour you spend thinking through how best to organize and present your portfolio of work, you spend all of 3-4 minutes thinking through the best ways to organize your job openings. Some things to think about in this context:
- Make sure it’s easy for visitors to browse openings in relevant ways (by location, by seniority, by discipline).
- Provide users with an easy to use “real time” job search feature.
- Ensure that each opening exists on its own search optimized page that can be easily shared via social media (after all, not everyone is going to find a position that is ideal for them, but they may know someone who might fit and it should be easy for them to share it).
- Make the application process intuitive, easy to use and as simple as possible to complete.
- Provide intelligent calls-to-action for interested searchers. Not everyone is ready to make a move right now. Make it easy for them to be notified of future opportunities as they become available via a simple email signup form.
I hope these four tips will help your firm attract the talent you want. I look forward to seeing your firm’s new career portal and I hope you’ll take the time to share it once it’s complete.